Scientist's warning fails to delay marina project State OKs addition in Cecil County

November 30, 1992|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer

Maryland has approved the expansion of a marina at th mouth of a small tidal creek in Cecil County, despite the finding of a Johns Hopkins University scientist that the creek bottom may be home to rare Chesapeake Bay grasses.

The marina project on Scotchman Creek was scaled back in response to concerns about dredging and boat traffic raised by Cecil residents, said Richard Ayella, chief of wetland permits for the state Department of Natural Resources.

Losten Marina will be allowed to dredge only about two acres of creek bottom to add 40 boat slips, under the plan approved recently by the state Board of Public Works. The marina's owner had requested state permission last summer to dredge as much as 3 1/2 acres to expand from 50 to 127 slips.

William B. Hilgartner, the Hopkins scientist, had urged state officials to deny or at least delay the project's approval after he found seeds of four kinds of aquatic plants on the creek bottom in and around the area where the dredging is planned.

One of those grasses, the slender naiad, is considered endangered in Maryland.

The case reached the three-member board, on which Gov. William Donald Schaefer sits, shortly before he and officials from Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia signed an agreement on underwater grasses in August. The agreement makes restoration of the plants a yardstick for measuring progress in the $400 million-a-year effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Underwater grasses feed and shelter crabs, fish and waterfowl. Once widespread, the plants virtually disappeared in the 1970s but have made a modest comeback.

No grasses were found growing in the water around the marina, and tests run on about 20 seeds collected from the bottom

indicated that they would not germinate. State officials concluded that the project would not disrupt any existing grass beds.

But Mr. Hilgartner contended that the seeds were evidence that grasses grow in the area, or did within the past few years. Many grasses die by late summer, when the search was conducted.

"The best thing, as far as the plants are concerned, was not to expand the marina at all," Mr. Hilgartner said. He recommended at a hearing last month that the project be delayed until next summer to see if grasses grow in the water where he found the seeds.

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, among other elected officials, opposed the marina project. The Republican congressman, whose 1st District includes Cecil, argued that to permit dredging in such cases undermines the bay restoration effort.

Vincent Schiavone, a waterfront homeowner, said he and other residents were disappointed by the state's decision. He predicted that the state's willingness to let marinas expand is "going to mean major problems for the bay."

The state Department of Natural Resources has drawn up new regulations intended to discourage marina development in shallow tidal creeks, which are poorly flushed by tidal action, Mr. Ayella said. The Cecil project still would have been approved because the Losten Marina is exposed to the Bohemia River's current at the mouth of the creek.

But Richard Klein, an environmental consultant for the residents, said the rules should help prevent similar projects in the state's 500 small tidal creeks. Though accounting for only 5 percent of the bay's surface, the creeks' shallow waters are prime sites for bay grasses and for spawning fish and waterfowl, Mr. Klein said.

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